19 September 2006

"Doomed" evangelism?

by Dan Phillips

Suppose I imagined that God commonly gave extra-Biblical revelation today. I so many kinds of don't—but suppose I did.

And suppose God said, "I want you to go tell this guy the Gospel, because I have hardened his heart so that, not only will he not repent and believe, but he'll become infuriated and want to kill you and torment the people you care most about. I'm going to use this situation to do all sorts of wonderful things."

The whole prophetic revelation thing aside—what would I think?

"Okay now, wait—'because'? You want me to talk to this guy, knowing that he won't believe? In fact, You're going to make sure that He won't believe? But the whole premise of evangelism that believes in Your sovereignty is that we don't know who is and isn't elect, so it's our place to sow in hope, and leave the results to You. But here You're telling me, right off the bat, that it's going to be a bust? And that's why You want me to go in?"

It struck me that this is precisely Moses' situation in dealing with Pharaoh, and specifically in Exodus 10—
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD."
Wouldn't that be grim news? "Go in... for, because, I have hardened his heart." Were I in Moses' sandals, it might be hard to get motivated.

But might that not be because our whole motivation is out of whack? Why would it bother us so much?

Well, it would bother us because we don't like to fail. Might as well be honest about it: we don't. "Here, try something you have no chance of achieving" isn't much of a sales pitch. We do things because we hope we might succeed in doing them. "Thirty Days to Miserable Failure" wouldn't be a catchy title for a church program, I'm thinking.

And then of course, on a higher level, it would and should bother us because we care about the person we're talking to. Unless there's something very wrong with us, we don't want to see anyone go to Hell. We want to be used by God for deliverance, not judgment. We don't evangelize to seal folks' doom. We evangelize in the hopes that the Word will bring hearing, and hearing will bring saving faith (Romans 10:17).

So what motivation does Yahweh offer Moses, apart from the mere and sufficient fact that it is He who calls him to talk to Pharaoh? I see a threefold motivation:
  1. "that I may show these signs of mine among them"
  2. "and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them"
  3. "that you [plural] may know that I am the LORD"
The "signs" Yahweh is about to show are signs of judgment. Yahweh actually had announced His program right from the start. Pharaoh's heart would be hard, he'd reject Yahweh's word, and this would become the occasion for Yahweh glorifying Himself by mighty acts of judgment (Exodus 3:19-20; 4:21). He had even told Pharaoh flat-out that this was why Pharaoh still stood: to serve as an object-lesson, revelatory of Yahweh and His ways (9:16).

So in the final analysis, Moses' entreaties and warnings to Pharaoh weren't about Moses and his success-quotient, they weren't about Pharaoh and his wellbeing, they weren't even just about Israel. They were about Yahweh, about His glory. Indeed, they would be instructive to Moses (6:1), Pharaoh (8:10), the Egyptians (7:5), the Israelites (16:6), and their children (10:2). But the main star occupying center stage would be Yahweh Himself. This "evangelism" was, in the final analysis, about Yahweh.

Brief aside: you'll notice that this is what drives unbelievers absolutely nuts. All the specific carpings and whinings and scoffing and mocking and verbal pouts boil down to this: they just really hate God being God. It scares the stuffing out of them. Quite properly so.

So then I think this way. If Moses was to go in with boldness and passion, knowing in advance that Pharaoh would blow him off—how much more should we? Because in fact we don't have direct revelation telling us whether or not this or that person is elect or not. We have no idea whatever whether this scroungy-looking, tattoo-covered boastful drunk may be gloriously converted, while that sweet, loving, lovable friend may despise the gospel of Christ. If we decide not to speak of Christ because of these impressions, we act from the folly of unbelief.

Because like Moses, we should not be primarily focused on succeeding in "winning souls." Nor is the be-all and end-all our neighbor's salvation. That is indeed a commandment to us, but it is the second. Not the first.

Our focus in evangelism (I preach to myself, nice of you to listen in) must be the glory of God. Lift up the Lord Jesus, lift up His gospel, lift up the Cross, and God will be glorified. He may be glorified by converting our hearer; or He may be glorified in judgment. But either way, He will be glorified.

God's glory—not redemption, nor any other concomitant good—is the center of history, the center of the Bible, the center of everything.

It should be the center and focus of our evangelism.

Dan Phillips's signature

48 comments:

Even So... said...

Look, Dan, I could go on and on, but at the risk of just sounding like a fanboy I will leave it to others and leave it at this:

INDEED...

Carla said...

If I could turn back the clock a few years and bring you with me to a conversation I once had, I'd have you repeat this:

"He may be glorified by converting our hearer; or He may be glorified in judgment. But either way, He will be glorified."

I said that in conversation about evangelism, and the folks hearing me took up verbal stones to seal my doom. It was incredible.

Thanks for posting this, I appreciate it.

I have no issue admitting I'm a fangirl, lol.

SDG...

Steven said...

Thanks for the perspective. Indeed.

Gareth said...

Amen to that Brother!

Chris Pixley said...

Dan-

This is a well-spoken, timely word. Thank you, Brother.

Suziannr said...

It is all about Him...and how easily we forget that...even we who are proclaiming His Sovereignty in salvation and in eternity. Thanks for this.

goodnightsafehome said...

It is thoughts like this that keep us going in evangelism. Imagine (to keep the game going) man's free will really was the bottom line and that we all had to wait along with God to see which way the wind would blow...who could venture forth with any confidence? Could we even pray about the matter, especially if we beleived the line: "God has done that He can do...now it's up to you!" ? Thanks, Dan for the reminder.

Libbie said...

Very helpful, turning it back around like that. All for His glory is a good phrase, but it's good to look at all the implications.

Not that you're good at this writing business or anything. In facts, you're pants.

*balance redressed, you may all recommence with fanboy and girlness*

DJP said...

Carla -- your thoughts made me think of this additional point.

If we're motivated more by either of the other concerns I suggested (i.e. the urge to "win," or the fear that our hearer will reject the Gospel), and if this motivation affects how we preach the Gospel, then God is less glorified.

Suppose I'm so afraid of failure that I don't preach at all. Then God is not glorified by my preaching of the Gospel. Instead, I act as if the Gospel and Christ are causes for shame and embarrassment (pace Romans 1:16).

And then again, suppose that I'm so eager for my hearer to convert that I change the Gospel. I make a Gospel and a Jesus that I think he's likelier to like.

I tone down the presentation of sin and God's holy wrath, or the Lordship of Christ and meaning of repentant faith; or I "preach up" man's will and goodness. Instead of "repent and believe," I say "Try Jesus, what do you stand to lose?", so as to be less offensive.

If I do, then I preach a smaller God, a smaller Christ, and a bigger man.

So the real goal is lost in clamor

DJP said...

Libbie -- I'm... I'm "pants"?

You do this to me on purpose, don't you?

At least I'm not completely on my todd.

/c:

Rileysowner said...

So far no one has disagreed with you, and I'm not going to either because it was not just Moses who had this sort of thing happen to him. Think of Isaiah's commissioning. The Lord calls him, he responds that the Lord tells him,

Isaiah 6:9-10 (ESV)
And he said, "Go, and say to this people: "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

Needless to say this does not seem to be what Isaiah expected, so he asked how long he is to do this. God answered and said,

Isaiah 6:11-13 (ESV)
"Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump.

Forget Thirty days of Miserable Failure. How about a lifetime! It would be like God tell a pastor to preach with the assurance that the only results would be that he will empty the churches until there are none left. The only assurance given here is that there is the holy seed in the stump.

DJP said...

Very true, Rileysowner. Or add Jeremiah's feelings about his own "gospel ministry," in Jeremiah 20.

Rhology said...

"Thirty Days to Miserable Failure"... isn't that the title of Osteen's upcoming book?

C. T. Lillies said...

So much for the empty brain theory.

Josh

C. T. Lillies said...

No thats too honest for Osteen. Most of his books sound more like ad copy for "Buns of Steel".

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Josh

donsands said...

Truly.

Nice harmony.

Good encouragement.

Taliesin said...

God's glory—not redemption, nor any other concomitant good—is the center of history, the center of the Bible, the center of everything.

Dan, how positively Edwardsian of you. :)

I'll leave it to one of the homeschool mom's to point out that you not only ended a sentence in a preposition, but highlighted it for all the world to see. (Someone has to be less than glowing.)

Seriously, excellent post. The negative example is that of Jonah, who wanted desperately to fail and knew he would succeed (even if not through a direct revelation). The Lord will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. We are responsible to heed His call regardless of the outcome.

DJP said...

Dan, how positively Edwardsian of you.

Really? It struck you as a cold, bloodless, pallid, sunken-eyed, ethereal, impenetrable soliloquy?

I'll have to work on that....

:^P

candyinsierras said...

Actually, I think the title of Osteen's new book will be "Thirty Days to Better Nutrition", going by a sermon we saw on TV where Osteen waxed eloquent about eating healthy food.

I like this verse: Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The LORD opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul...Acts 16:14

I agree. Interesting and thoughtful perspective on the sovereignty of God.

Craver VII said...

He (djp) speaks the truth. He said something of importance and relevance. Plus, he carries a sword. I think we should listen to him.

What bugs me is that I find it so difficult to locate good options for a prefabricated, “link-to” internet Gospel presentation. I chose one for my own blog, but I feel like there should be a whole heap of good options out there.

DJP said...

For whatever it's worth to you, Craver, there are a couple on my web site (www.bibchr.com), titled "How Can I Know God?", and "Why I Am (Still) a Christian."

JackW said...

Timely. On Sunday the Pastor was preaching from Ecclesiastes 12 “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth … “ and at the end he made the statement that most Christians become Christians in their youth because it’s easier to do that when you are young than when you are old.

Really? So I guess that means it is more difficult for God to save an old man than a young one?

LeeC said...

Yup DJP you beat me to my favorite Jeremiah.

What a failure he would have been if his ministry were results oriented instead of obedience oriented. Instead he was victoriously used through his obedience.

I'm so often like my five year old when it comes to obedience. "You want me to do that? BUT that wont work!"

I need to remember what I try to teach her in those situations. "Don't you worry about whether it will work or not, your job is to hear and obey, I'll take care of the rest."

God is far more capable of "Taking care of the rest" than I am.

Daniel Portela said...

Rocking post Dan.

Thanks for the great insight. I've read that passage several times and this never jumped at me...

God bless,

Daniel

DJP said...

Yup DJP you beat me to my favorite Jeremiah.

Well, Lee, I couldn't put that in the post.

Didn't want anyone to have to say it was VERY LONG, or anything.

(c;

TheBlueRaja said...

Right on.

Jason said...

Thanks for confirming my message this week! I began with Ps. 46:10, emphasizing the "I will be exalted" statements.

Amen, brother!

danny2 said...

"Thirty Days to Miserable Failure"

c'mon dan, haven't you noticed...anytime God wants to work, He does it in FORTY days!!!!

actually, this was once again a very timely post. (have you figured out a way to read my mind?) i've just recently been scolded that i don't care enough about people because i don't focus enough on results.

thanks for keeping my eyes directed on Whom they belong.

Steve said...

What a superb indictment of our propensity to have a results-oriented outlook! What an affirmation of a need for a God-centered outlook on all that we do.

Even before I finished reading the post I forwarded it to three people whom I knew would be blessed by it. Thanks for a reminder of the perspective we should have.

Bhedr said...

>Brief aside: you'll notice that this is what drives unbelievers absolutely nuts. All the specific carpings and whinings and scoffing and mocking and verbal pouts boil down to this: they just really hate God being God.<

Amen and again I say amen.

Remember also Dan that the apostle Paul was warned by God that his efforts in Jerusalem would fail by a Prophet. Paul said he was ready to die for God and his brethren. Dont miss the unique nature of that prophecy and Pauls heart. Meditate on it. Some feel Paul was resisting God but I commit it to the mystery of intercession found in Moses praying when God changed his mind. In fact he wept over his brethren who wouldn't believe. Remember that there is a mystery in the Trinity that expresses itself in the God man Jesus within us weeping as He wept over Jeruselum.

But as you say, we must first accept Gods glory and that He will one day have the last word and His name will be glorified that indeed makes everyone who will not believe indignant. That is where our Soteriology must start with the Glory of God and the fact that he alone chooses and regenerates. The wind blows where it wills and it is not of Him that willeth.

emmzee said...

Great post. I don't always agree with everything written on the Team Pyto blog but I have to say, I agree wholeheartedly here.

SFB said...

Dear brother: Amen. What truth it is that God's sovereignty and glory are not only our highest good, but the entire purpose for the existence of all things.

I have been saying for years that the SAME glory of Christ's coming on the last day will be:

1)The greatest joy of the Christian
2)Abject terror and doom for the unsaved.

It's the SAME light, power, Word, majesty and fire that flow out of our coming King. It has its one effect on the redeemed, and another effect altogether on the reprobate. Praise God that there IS a remnant saved by His great sovereign grace.

vjxrsswo, for the record.

4given said...

(it is getting embarrassing how often I link to your posts)

striving... said...

It is a great post. I remember when I read this part of the bible. I was questioning just this. Why would God harden phroahs heart, why didn't he just turn his heart. It is wonderful to read your post. Again I have another question for my pastor. He is going to be very curious, normally I do not ask much, I am a listener. (i.e. Yehwah, why Yehwah? what does that mean?)

striving... said...

Just one more thing, "Moses and Aaron thro down?" cute!

DJP said...

Yehwah, why Yehwah?

It's risky, getting me started on this.

The short answers are:

1. "Yahweh," not "Yehwah."

2. Because that is the name of God used over 6800 times in the inspired Hebrew, though superstitiously obscured for no good reason by every modern major translation by "LORD" or "GOD."

3. See further HERE, question 7.

BReformed said...

I would like to add the observation that Jonah was not sent to hardened hearts and he was still unwilling to go.

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. I wonder sometimes if there are too many Christians content to write-off people that they perceive to be permanently hardened in their hearts. I am one of those from time to time.

The quip "He may be glorified by converting our hearer; or He may be glorified in judgment. But either way, He will be glorified." should be juxtaposed next to Jonah 4:11. God desires the former as opposed to the latter, and the fact that the angels in heaven rejoice over one saved soul is evidence of a greater glory in conversion than in judgment.

We might learn to pray more as Abraham did for Sodom. If we cannot, then we must wonder about our own hard-heartedness.

donsands said...

breformed,

I get what your saying about the harvest.

I disagree that God is more glorified in His mercy than in His judgment.
I believe everything God wills and purposes to do is perfect, and He will be glorified in His infinite wisdom and justice, just the same as He will be in his mercy and forgiveness.

Surely the greatest glory we see is a sinner saved from his sins, and from eternal damnation.
I agree from our perspective this seems to more glory for God.

Terry Rayburn said...

"He may be glorified by converting our hearer; or He may be glorified in judgment. But either way, He will be glorified."

True. Either way God will be glorified.

And beyond that, God's glory is never dependent even on the performance or motives of the evangelist.

God will be glorified...period. By our good performance, and by our bad. By our rightly-motivated evangelism, or by our wrongly motivated. By our high volume of evangelistic talk, or by the miserable lack of our evangelism.

He deserves our glorifying Him, He even works in us to glorify Him, but His glory never depends on us.

And the Catch-22 is that the more we appropriate or understand His sovereign trancendence over our performance, and His astounding love and acceptance of us in spite of our life-long failures, the more our sense of wonder tends to cause us to want to glorify Him.

Bhedr said...

Another Gem to learn from Terry. Thanks

striving... said...

Please understand I live by no question is a stupid question, and since I have never studied hebrew, I had no clue. Thanks for clearing that up too. I have learned a lot from you this month alone. Cant wait to see what happens next.

:)

DJP said...

Oh heavens, Striving, it wasn't a stupid question at all. I'm really glad you simply asked, and grateful if I was of some help.

striving... said...

it was very helpful thank you. I also just got done reading the link you put on, and got more great advice on things I have been thinking about. Like why there are different bibles, NKJ NIV etc. My 8 year old asked me the other day at church and I believe I can explain it to her easily now. Thanks.

BReformed said...

My point is rooted in Exodus 33:22 thru 34:8. In that passage, God Himself tells Moses that His glory is going to pass by, and in God's declaration He Himself says, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

In that declaration, framed in His glory, both His mercy and justice are provisioned. But I think the clear intonation from God's own mouth, indeed the first qualities He utters about Himself, have to do with His mercy, grace, and forgiveness -- not His judgment.

God would have been glorifed in utter and immediate judgment of humanity, obviously. But it seems to me that God has gone to great lengths to increase His glory through the extension of mercy on whom He will have mercy. By excercising mercy when He did not have to, He has enabled us to bring Him joyful praise eternally in His kingdom. Moreover, that is a praise not dependent on us, but rather a result of Christ in us.

donsands said...

"God has gone to great lengths to increase His glory"

This is a deep thought, and a good one.

Can God become more than He already eternally is in His glory?

I don't think God can add to His glory through having mercy on sinners. It seems to me His glory is eternal and immutable.
The Cross expresses the glory of the Father's heart. It doesn't add to it.
The Son's laying down His life for the Father displayed the glory of His grace.

God's glory is eternal. And we are honored to manifest this glory in the preaching of the gospel, and in obeying the Word of God in His grace by faith.

Gummby said...

I sooo needed to hear this after talking to Briggs & Stratton last night.

Thanks.

mxu said...

Hey, I loved this post. Thank you for sharing.

I've linked it here.

PSzalapski said...

Excellent article! It so often boils down to the fact that people repeat the original sin, wanting to be God, or at least like him (Genesis 3:5).

We've posted a link at our site

Patrick
Editor-in-Chief, ShareYourFaith.org evangelism